Accidental OD ruling in burned-out van case suprises Warren cops
By Ed Runyan
In a surprising twist, Michael C. Walker, one of 13 people who was thought to have been murdered in Warren in 2017, has been ruled an accidental overdose death.
The ruling by Trumbull County Coroner Dr. Humphrey Germaniuk surprised Warren police detectives, who investigated the death as a homicide.
Walker’s body was found July 24 in a burned-out minivan on a nearly abandoned part of Pershing Avenue Southwest, a few streets west of the former Warren Western Reserve High School.
The van was registered to Walker, but his body was found in the back seat. There were indications that Walker had been assaulted, but not enough to kill him.
A Pershing resident called 911 at 10:08 a.m. that day to report the burned-out minivan off the edge of the road. Walker’s body was partially out of the vehicle. The fire consumed the part of Walker’s body in the car and all but the metal parts of the minivan.
Firefighters determined that the fire had probably occurred overnight.
It didn’t seem likely that Walker set the fire himself, so homicide seemed like the most plausible answer, said Capt. Rob Massucci, chief of detectives.
“Nobody would have walked up to that crime scene and said, ‘That guy [overdosed],’” Massucci said. “It definitely appeared we had a homicide.”
“How do you explain him being in the back seat? How do you explain the assaults on him? How do you explain the car catching on fire? There’s too many things that go unexplained.”
Walker had been convicted of heroin possession in 2015 but had successfully completed the Trumbull County Common Pleas drug court program and had graduated from the program three months before his death. He went to prison 2013 in a burglary case.
Massucci said one reason for the ruling was there was a lack of carbon monoxide in Walker’s lungs – evidence that he was dead before the fire began.
Massucci said he understands why Dr. Humphrey Germaniuk, coroner, ruled the death an accidental overdose because of a lack of evidence to prove the death was something else.
“No one has come forward to say [Walker] was held down and shot up with dope,” Massuci said. “He’s kind of got to rule that way.”
Massucci said detectives are not in a position right now to file any charges.
“The ruling itself basically dictated how we’re going to handle it from this point on,” Massucci said. “There are charges there for assault and abuse of a corpse, but our investigation right now, unless we come with any more information, is basically standing still.”